Prince launches £50m prize to rescue planet

Green king? The Duke worked on the project for two years after visiting Africa. © Kensington Palace

Could Prince William save the world? The future king has teamed up with global climate icon David Attenborough to create a green “Nobel prize” to inspire a new generation of innovators.

Deep within the ancient forests, the fires are burning out of control.

Armed only with spluttering hoses, the firefighters are battling tirelessly against a wall of agonising heat and dust. As soon as they put out one blaze, another sparks.

It is a scene that is becoming increasingly common in 2020. But this is not Australia, or even California: this is Yakutia, a vast remote region of Siberia, where snow is slowly being replaced by towering flames.

Villagers are worried: it is not normal for fires to burn in the Arctic Circle.

Now, scientists have confirmed what many already suspected – last month was the hottest September ever recorded across the globe.

As the world reaches boiling point, alarmed environmentalists say time is running out to protect the planet.

Now, there is new hope in the form of a £50m prize launched this week by Prince William and David Attenborough to find the best ideas to save the Earth.

Dubbed the “new Green Nobel”, the Earthshot prize aims to find 50 solutions to the world’s most serious environmental problems by 2030, with five £1m prizes awarded every year for the next decade.

“There’s a lot of people wanting to do many good things in the environment and what they need is a bit of a catalyst, a bit of hope, a bit of positivity that we can actually fix what’s being presented,” said the prince.

Named after Moonshot, JFK’s mammoth project to take humans to the moon, the new awards are centred on five goals called “Earthshots”: to protect and restore nature, clean our air, revive our oceans, build a waste free world and fix our climate.

From schools to banks, anyone can enter, says Attenborough, even if their suggestions “may sound crackpot.”

So why is Britain’s future king so interested in climate change?

With the launch of the prize, the prince has become a third-generation activist. His grandfather, the 99-year-old Duke of Edinburgh, was for nearly 20 years the first president of the UK’s World Wildlife Fund.

When his father Prince Charles made his first speech on the environment aged just 21 at a countryside conference in Cardiff, he was widely regarded as “a bit dotty”.

But today, 50 years on, his son is eager to defend him: “I think the dotty person now would be the person who doesn’t believe in climate change.”

Senior royals, and especially monarchs-in-waiting, do not have a clearly defined role in British life. Instead, they have become effective wielders of soft power, campaigning for issues they feel are important.

In the now infamous black spider memos, a series of letters written to British politicians in the early 2000s, Prince Charles rallied support for everything from organic food to the Patagonian toothfish.

And when the G20 met in London in 2009, the heir to the throne held a meeting for world leaders, raising £6 billion for the Amazon.

Now, the Duke of Cambridge is set to take on the climate mantle: “I feel right now it’s my responsibility.”

So, could Prince William save the world?

Climate hero?

Yes, say some. By launching the new Earthshot awards, the biggest environmental prize ever to exist, Prince William has shown he is serious about tackling climate change. And the prince, who is famous worldwide, is a massive global influencer – he has the power to bring together scientists, politicians and celebrities like David Attenborough to coordinate worldwide efforts to save the planet.

Not really, say others. The Duke of Cambridge is a prince, not a politician. He may have some symbolic power, but he cannot pass laws to prevent the burning of fossil fuels or sign treaties to stop the destruction of the rainforests. Real change comes from decisive and radical government action, not from influencers, however famous they may be.

You Decide

  1. Who inspires you more: Prince William or Greta Thunberg?
  2. Is climate change the biggest problem facing the world today?

Activities

  1. Write a letter to Prince William urging him to use his influence to campaign for an issue you are passionate about.
  2. In groups, choose one of the five “Earthshot” goals. Dream up a new proposal to achieve this goal and then present your plan to the class. Vote on which group has the best idea.

Some People Say...

“I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.”

Greta Thunberg, Swedish climate change activist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that even though they are not outwardly political, members of the British Royal Family play an important part in representing the interests of the UK. Since their marriage in 2011, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have toured all over the world, meeting politicians. Now, as Britain faces criticism over its handling of the coronavirus and uncertainty post-Brexit, the ever-popular Prince William could help Britain to forge a new global role as an environmental leader.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate in the UK surrounds whether or not Royals should try to use their position to further their personal political opinions. Traditionally, senior members of the Royal Family remain neutral during elections and choose not to vote, but between 2004 and 2005 Prince Charles controversially sent 27 memos to senior British politicians campaigning for action on issues such as alternative medicine and the Iraq war, while Prince Harry recently urged Americans to vote.

Word Watch

Yakutia
The remote Russian region is 13 times the size of Britain.
Hottest September
On average, surface air temperatures around the world were 0.05C warmer than the year before.
David Attenborough
The English broadcaster and natural historian, who turned 94 in May, reached 1 million followers in record time when he joined Instagram last month.
JFK’s mammoth project
In 1961, then US President John F. Kennedy announced the goal of landing a man on the moon. At the time, American astronauts had spent a total of only 15 minutes in space.
Soft power
In politics, soft power is used to gently persuade people to make a decision, often using cultural influence, rather than forcing or coercing them. The term was coined by American political scientist Joseph Nye in the late 1980s.
Black spider memo
A set of 27 private letters sent by Prince Charles to British politicians, including then Prime Minister Tony Blair, containing his views on government policy. They are known as the “black spider memos” due to his scrawled handwriting.
G20
The G20 (or Group of Twenty) is an international forum consisting of the government and central bank governors of 19 countries plus the European Union. Only former US President Obama, who was meeting the Queen, did not attend Prince Charles’s meeting.
Duke of Cambridge
The Queen granted Prince William and Kate Middleton the titles the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge upon their wedding in 2011.

Subjects

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